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New Music Series: Outside The Sphere at Arts + Literature Laboratory

February 3 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

A black-and-white photo shows musicians Tony Barba (left) and Michael Brenneis standing next to each other and facing the camera. In the background is a nondescript industrial building with a loading dock.

Outside The Sphere, the duo of percussionist Michael Brenneis and saxophonist Tony Barba, grew from a series of improvised duets Brenneis launched in 2018. The two share a vast, electroacoustic vocabulary—Brenneis has spent more than 20 years making all manner of adventurous music, and Barba’s work ranges from taut jazz combos to glacial ambient music. The duo’s first recording, released in 2019, senses all those potentially overwhelming options but always manages to feel focused and invested in the moment, whether amid the breathy expanse of “Davenport A Couch” or the restless itch of “Calling Around.” 


Things kept getting more unpredictable during the early months of the pandemic, when the two performed a series of remote improvisations on YouTube. “These were as musical as they were therapeutic, I think, and we captured some really good stuff,” Brenneis says. A lot of the video performances and livestreams during that time felt like make-the-best-of-it attempts to fill the void of live shows, but Outside The Sphere’s sessions were among the rare ones that channeled 2020’s maddening isolation and anxiety into something that truly made sense in that context. On the series’ third episode, the pent-up, questing energy of two busily gigging musicians reaches a searing point, and that climbing-the-walls feeling alchemizes into something greater.

As part of Arts + Literature Laboratory’s New Music Series, this show will let audiences catch up on all the growth since Outside The Sphere’s inception. Both musicians will incorporate their main instruments and seek a deeper integration with electronic elements. “As you can hear on the first recording, the electronics work kind of as spare voices accompanying our acoustic playing,” Brenneis says. “More recently we’ve gotten to where we can add layer upon layer when the mood strikes, and it becomes more orchestral, more involved, and a voice that speaks as an equal to our acoustic playing.” It may emerge as two sets, or flow as “one gargantuan set of several improvisations,” Brenneis adds. 

—Scott Gordon

Photo by Sebastian Brenneis.


February 3
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
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Arts + Literature Laboratory
111 South Livingston Street
Madison, WI 53703 United States
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